Located on Carlisle Circus, the Op Shop is the first part of a local church plan to take shape in response to the number of families who have made their homes in the north of the city from overseas. Open five days a week from 10am to 4pm, the shop specialises in quality nearly new children and baby clothes, and other essential items that families need, from high chairs and cuddly toys to changing mats and packs of nappies.
The project is the first phase of a joint initiative by PCI’s North Belfast Presbytery and the denomination’s Council for Mission in Ireland to support migrant families in the local area. Ten congregations are providing volunteers, including five volunteers who have come to live in the city from Africa and the Middle East. Trevor Long, Clerk of the Presbytery, said that a weekly Parents and Toddlers meeting and English classes will follow in November. Longer-term, a drop in centre called the International Meeting Point (IMP), will open in the former church hall behind the new shop.
“After years of welcoming migrants and asylum seekers to PCI’s International Meeting Point in south Belfast, we were aware that many who went to the IMP were from north Belfast, had young families, and had to crisscross the city involving a four bus journey round trip. There was a need to do something locally. The Opportunity Shop, is the first part of a process that will see the setting up of a second International Meeting Point in the city,” he explained.
“This project has reinvigorated our local congregations and I am glad to say that the shop is already being used by members of the wider local community. This initiative is an opportunity to help, an opportunity to offer friendship and an opportunity for people to get a bargain in the process. It is wonderful to be able to demonstrate a living Christian witness of practical love and care, particular on this site, which was once home to one our biggest churches,” Mr Long said.
Presbyterian Moderator, Right Rev Dr William Henry, said that he was delighted to join the volunteers to help officially open the new venture. “The Op Shop is part of a long tradition and rich heritage of the Church’s direct involvement in the welfare of the city and its people.
“Alongside loving and supporting others, the Bible commends hospitality as a basic Christian response to the outworking of our faith. One hundred and fifty years ago Presbyterian’s committed to supporting the practical and spiritual needs of the whole person in the city through the Shankill Road Mission.
“That tradition remains alive and well today through a range of services and initiatives run by the Church centrally, and by presbyteries, which includes the International Meeting Point in south Belfast. The Opportunity Shop is the latest example of reaching out with the love of Christ to the local community and beyond,” he said.
The International Meeting Point in south Belfast was opened in 2010 and exists to meet the practical and spiritual needs of migrants and asylum seekers across the city. Its project leader, Keith Preston, who is leading on the north Belfast initiative said that the Church’s aim was to create the same kind of support in the north of the city.
“The IMP really does do what it says on the tin, it’s a safe place for people from different nations to meet. As a team we serve out of compassion and as agents of welcome to those who, for whatever reason, find themselves far away from home. We are looking forward to getting IMP2 up and running, as it will be an important addition to our mission as a church, especially to those who are really on the periphery of society,” he said.
“The Op Shop is a first for us. Having opened in August we have welcomed people from overseas, local people from both traditions in the city as well, so it is not only an international, but a multi-cultural initiative, and we hope that it will be a blessing to many people.”
Photos: (1) Op Shop volunteer, Jamileh Salehzadeh, who is originally from Iran, supported by the Moderator, Dr William Henry (left) and North Belfast Presbytery Moderator, Rev Colin Gamble of Immanuel Presbyterian Church (right) officially opening the new charity shop (2) the crowd outside the Op Shop applaud the opening (3) Op Shop volunteers (left to right) Carol Dalzell from Woodvale Presbyterian Church, Carole McDowell, Jackie Davison and Lynn Crowe who attend Whitehouse Presbyterian, Jamileh, who cut the ribbon and attends Windsor Presbyterian, with Op Shop manager Francis Jackson and volunteer Elizabeth Millar from Stormont Presbyterian Church.